Washington Capitals forward Nic Dowd will not receive any supplemental discipline for his hit to the head of Buffalo Sabres center Eric Staal.  No fine. No suspension.

Dowd delivered the center-ice hit midway through the third period of Thursday’s game, with the Caps leading 5-3. Dowd was given a minor penalty for an illegal check to the head.


The NHL Department of Player Safety opted to avoid further disciplinary action as they felt there was no clear evidence that the head was the main point of contact, the Washington Post’s Samantha Pell reported.

Staal was injured on the play and did not return to the game.

“Quite surprised that a hit to the head gets two minutes, but it is what it is,” said Sabres head coach Ralph Krueger.

Here’s Rule 48 – Illegal Check to the Head:

A hit resulting in contact with an opponent’s head where the head was the main point of contact and such contact to the head was avoidable is not permitted. In determining whether contact with an opponent’s head was avoidable, the circumstances of the hit including the following shall be considered:

(i) Whether the player attempted to hit squarely through the opponent’s body and the head was not “picked” as a result of poor timing, poor angle of approach, or unnecessary extension of the body upward or outward.

(ii) Whether the opponent put himself in a vulnerable position by assuming a posture that made head contact on an otherwise full body check unavoidable.

(iii) Whether the opponent materially changed the position of his body or head immediately prior to or simultaneously with the hit in a way that significantly contributed to the head contact.

48.2 Minor Penalty – For violation of this rule, a minor penalty shall be assessed.

48.5 Match Penalty – The Referee, at his discretion, may assess a match penalty if, in his judgment, the player attempted to or deliberately injured his opponent with an illegal check to the head.

The officials passed on the ‘deliberately injured’ portion of the rule, meaning that only a minor penalty option was available. Keep in mind, if they do call the match penalty, the referees have an opportunity to review video of the play to confirm or downgrade the call on the ice.

“That’s a tough hit,” said Buffalo forward Taylor Hall. “[Staal’s] not even a really dangerous player at that point when he has the puck. So, for the guy to go after him and make contact with his jaw like that, it’s not something that you want to see. […] He’s a big part of our team not only on the ice but off the ice. He’s been around, he’s played over 1,000 games. He’s made a huge impact in this league and on our team already, so hopefully he’s okay.”

With St. Louis Blues forward Sammy Blais sitting out two games for a headshot, the lack of disciplinary action is a bit surprising – especially for a league looking to reduce head contact.

NHL Player Agent Allan Walsh weighed in on the situation on Twitter:

“It’s incomprehensible to me there is no rule banning all hits to the head, whether intentional or not from a stick, shoulder or elbow. There is a rule for illegal checks to the head (sometimes called) but not all contact with the head. It’s time.”

“I talk to GM’s, coaches, players, former players and almost everyone agrees with banning all contact with the head and nothing changes. Why? Simple answer. Gary Bettman. He’s against it.”

Staal is currently day-to-day.

The two teams will meet again tonight with the same officials.  No doubt they’ll be keeping an eye on Dowd, and anyone looking to avenge his hit.